The Phillip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art, nestled between Corson and Olin halls, is an integral part of Ursinus College. It is a space that presents innovative exhibitions and programs that delve into a broader world of ideas and invite curiosity and critical thinking.
Behind the scenes, Ursinus students play a large role in helping those exhibitions come to life.
“It’s a really cool opportunity because, at least for me, I am doing more professional work that I probably wouldn’t be doing elsewhere,” Teddi Caputo ’18 says.
The Berman’s student workers, like Caputo, dedicate time, energy and fervor in order to maintain the collections, install exhibitions and keep the museum running smoothly. They curate exhibitions, maintain campus sculptures in the summer and also perform museum research.
They also work in the collections field, which is when students work with the artwork itself, moving, installing, packing, unpacking, and filing artwork, as well as other tasks.
Students gain tangible skills while working in the museum, says Julie Choma, collections manager and registrar at the Berman Museum. She stressed that museum work is not merely one-dimensional. Student workers may learn how to install exhibitions or catalogue collections, but they also learn why professionals handle art in specific ways, and the importance of taking care of art in order to gain a respect and understanding of the museum world.
Aubrey Basla ’18, a collections assistant, says, “What I liked about [working in collections] was being in our full inventory and being able to know that what I was doing was helping to organize and protect [the art] for years to come.”
Although there is no “typical” day while working in a fluid and ever-changing industry, Skye Gailing ’18, collections assistant and social media representative, described her average Thursday at the Berman.
Gailing and the other student workers handle the logistics, like opening the museum, turning videos on for the exhibitions, and working the front desk. She also maintains the collections hours with Basla, where they conduct inventory in the vaults and perform other book-keeping tasks.
“We are doing a show of photographs of famous artists’ pallets,” Caputo says, describing a current project. “The photographer is Matthias Schaller and he went back and photographed Van Gogh’s pallet and Monet’s pallet. There are going to be large-sized photographs in the main gallery, so I am writing bios for every artist and their corresponding pallet.”
When taking all of these tasks into consideration, it’s easy to see why Choma refers to the students as her “backbone.” She says other industry professionals have told her that they are inspired by the skills Ursinus students display while working at the Berman.
“No matter where you go [in the museum industry], there’s always too much to do, there is never enough people, and you never get paid enough for it,” she says. “You do it because you are dedicated. You do it because you like doing it. You have that passion.”
There are rewarding aspects when working in the museum industry, especially to those that have a passion for the arts. Students have a chance to get acquainted with the various exhibitions on display, as well as make connections with people in the industry.
Gailing says one of her favorite exhibitions was one curated through the college’s museum studies courses. “It showed the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating museum exhibitions and the process surrounding working at a museum.”
Choma explains that what she appreciates the most while working at the Berman Museum is the time she gets to work with students, and the atmosphere created by a museum located on a college campus.
“Students remind me of why I like doing what I do,” she says, adding that she hopes the student workers feel a sense of community at the Berman.
“We don’t just have students. We have family members here,” she says. “We want to create an environment where they are comfortable to make friends here, comfortable to come here when they need something. That is what I want them to get out of their experiences. Knowledge, and then family.” –By Madison Bradley ’18
The Berman Museum’s student workers this year include: Aubrey Basla, Kate Bormann, Shelby Bryant, Teddi Caputo, Megan Carty, Emma Feinman, Skye Gailing, Jacob Helwig, Morgan Larese, Yanlin Li, Sam Pope, Daniella Statuti, Robert Varney and Haochen Yan.